Author’s Note: The battle against greed, hatred and delusion in the human mind (and body) is ongoing and eternal. Within Buddhist self-cultivation there must be a rigid and uncompromising ‘honesty’ with yourselves and others. Furthermore, such ‘honesty’ must also be ‘impartial’ and ‘indifferent’. As it is the expected ‘norm’ within the practice of ‘Dhamma’ - it is not considered anything ‘special’ once established and maintained. If a practitioner either mistakenly (or purposely) believes themselves ‘Enlightened’ when still held firmly in the grip of the three taints – then hellish inner and outer karma is not just generated but is magnified through its association with a malfunctioning Dhamma! This form of destructive self-delusion (and pseudo-enlightenment) is exactly what the Buddha and his disciples warned about through their teaching! This means that the empty mind ground only underlies good, bad and neutral conditions when it is directly experienced as doing so – and NOT before. For a person whose mind is still clouded by these three taints – then the empty mind ground is NOT yet known to be a) present and b) underlying all conditioned and non-conditioned states. Without first DIRECTLY experiencing and merging with the empty mind ground – a practitioner cannot claim to be ‘Enlightened’ simply by intellectually ‘knowing’ and ‘understanding’ that the empty mind ground exists in theory behind ALL material states. For a genuine experience of ‘Enlightenment’ to occur, the Dhamma must be properly followed and its fruits of practice gathered in a honest manner. Only strict discipline on the psychological and physical planes will gather enough purified inner energy for a genuine breakthrough in understanding to take place. The Mahasiddhis in the Tantric tradition, for instance, often dedicate their lives to nearly impossible tasks of spiritual discipline and purification that take twelve, twenty-four (or even longer) years to achieve! Many Mahayana practitioners ‘delay’ their entry into Nibbana over many lives in order to ‘rescue’ and ‘sae’ as many beings as possible from suffering! Those of the Theravada Scholl often dedicate decades of their lives quietly sitting in the depths of the forest until their individual minds are cleared of all impurities! Again, ‘honesty’ is the key to progression. ACW (31.8.2021)
As a follower of the Dharma, I see no contradictions in any of three contemporary schools – the Theravada, the Mahayana and Vajra (Tantra)-yana – methods of achieving Enlightenment. The Dhammapada Sutta is a prime example of the Buddha’s early (and over-all) teaching – which sees the conservative Theravada School quote frequently from it (see the Visuddhimagga) - whilst completely ignoring its Mahayana and Vajrayana content – most of which contradicts the central tenants of the ‘Hinayana’ movement! Certainly, this type of ‘Sutta’ preserved in the old Pali Cannon appears to contain the seeds of both Mahayana and Vajrayana practice. This means that these pathways cannot be ‘later’ diversions from the Buddha’s orthodox teachings – but must have been present in his ‘original’ expression of the Dhamma. This suggests that there were other trends or traits of Buddhist teaching that existed side by side with the Theravada and which taught far broader and more comprehensive Dhamma-theories. As these schools did not compete or seek worldly influence and power – and given their practitioners often withdrew for years (or decades) from the world of common interaction – their presence in the historical record did not develop until much later on, when the dialectical conditions within society favoured a more comprehensive definition of the Dhamma and what it means to be ‘Enlightened’.
Although sound academic claims have been made which present the Mahayana and Vajrayana as being ‘corruptions’ of the Buddha’s original teaching – suggesting that Hinduism, Jainism and even Islamic ideas infiltrated the interpretation of the Dhamma – this model does not hold when the Dhammapada Sutta is taken into account. As the Dhammapada Sutta emanates from the ‘Word of the Buddha’, then it is his solemn expression of the Dhamma with no outside influences. Of course, the Theravada ideologues often counter this assertion by stating extracts from ultra-conservative Suttas – with each implying that only monks can achieve enlightenment who live in a forest – and no one else! The problem here, is that much of this material is now proven as being the product of additions, omissions and clever monkish editing to justify the ethos of the Theravada School. The Theravada School could get away with this in a time-period when only Buddhist monastics could read and write and the laity had to take their word for what the Buddha taught. Today, through the science of ‘Philology’, it is clear that the Dhammapada Sutta contains unaltered (ancient) content which has proven to be an embarrassment to the conservatism of the Theravada School! Indeed, evidence suggests that the Dhammapada Sutta was a much more prominent Buddhist text until the laity started using its content to ‘doubt’ the ‘conservativism’ of the Theravada School – whose editors ‘hid’ the Sutta away and started to emphasis more one-sided Dhamma-expressions.
Even at the time of the Buddha’s Parinibbana (all-round and thorough ‘extinction’) - not all the elder monks (or groups of monks) who had learned directly from him - accepted the Theravada School as being entirely correct. This is not to say that the Theravada School is ‘wrong’ - but that its claim to an ‘exclusive’ legitimacy is not fully supported by the known facts. The conservative approach of the Theravada School is suitable for those individuals who require that type of approach to learning the Dhamma. However, it is also true that the Buddha also taught a number of other interpretations of his path – each extending the depth and broadness of the concept of ‘Enlightenment’ and how it is to be applied to the world. All pathways are of equal validity and it is probably the case that most people will at one time or another in their lives – explore all three pathways. For the Theravada School a Buddhist monastic living deep in the forest (away from ALL worldly contact) occupies the ideal situation for Dhamma-study. The six senses are ‘purified’ by ‘breaking’ ALL contact with worldly interaction whilst living in a meditation hut and following the Vinaya Discipline. Overtime, the six senses are thoroughly cleaned-out as the ridge-pole of ignorance is broken through a continuous practice of seated meditation. This is achieved by permanently uprooting greed, hatred and delusion. Once nibbana is attained, no more volitional karma is produced, but the continued existence of the physical body symbolises the accumulative effects of past karma – although after the realisation of ‘Enlightenment’ - all previously bad karma is greatly reduced. When the karmic force that powers each physical existence is exhausted – then the five aggregates (physical matter, sensation, perception, thought formation and consciousness) dissolve and fall away never to ‘re-combine’.
Interestingly, the Theravada model implies that only monks can realise ‘Enlightenment’ even though numerous Pali Suttas clearly state that a number of lay-men and women also realised complete ‘Enlightenment’ during the Buddha’s lifetime. This openly contradicts the Theravada School – which suggests that if an ‘Enlightened’ monk were to return to lay-life – then his ‘Enlightened’ state would regress as his six senses would once again be ‘sullied’ through interaction with the world. The Pali Suttas that the Theravada School preserve contradict most of the accrued dogma that this school preserves. Obviously, men and women can attain ‘Enlightenment’ even if they live within the pollution of everyday society, and according to the Dhammapada Sutta - ‘Enlightenment’ can be attained in places other than a forest – with the realisers not suffering any regression by changing their living conditions. This does not mean that the over-all methodology of the Theravada School is ‘incorrect’ - but rather that as a method it fits into a broader scheme designed by the Buddha. Somewhere along the line a group of monks seeking political (worldly) power established a number of outrageous claims that have gone unchallenged. The Mahayana School (which is a collection of Sects all teaching a variant upon a theme), also states that it might be in the interests of the individual to withdraw from the sensory stimulus of the everyday world to get to grips with the unruly mind. This is not the ‘end’ of the matter by any means – but merely the beginning of an ongoing and arduous process of self-purification. Much of the Mahayana pathway is premised upon ‘Compassion’ for other beings and includes methods of wise and loving modes of behaviour whilst interacting within the ordinary world. This means that even when living within the world of delusion, the Dhamma can be followed in such a manner that benefits others whilst pursuing a much slower path of purification.
As Hui Neng (the Sixth Patriarch of Ch’an) states in his Altar Sutra – once the six senses are thoroughly purged of ALL dualistic and inverted (volitional) karma, then greed, hatred and desire are PERMANENTLY uprooted never to re-appear again regardless of the situations such ‘Enlightened’ individuals are forced to exist within. (Hui Neng had to live in the hills with bandits for sixteen years but only ate the vegetables they cooked alongside their meat). Herein lies a major interpretative difference between the Theravada and Mahayana Schools. Other than this, however, the experience of ‘Enlightenment’ is essentially the same. An ‘Enlightened’ Mahayana practitioner CANNOT regress regardless of circumstances – which he or she merely adjusts themselves to (neither attached to the inner void or hindered by external phenomena). Whereas Chinese Ch’an Masters were often reticent to discuss the post-enlightenment state (to prevent pointless mimicry and ego-boosting) - the Vajrayana School of Tantra explains this process over and over again within the literature associated with the ‘Mahasiddhis’ - or ‘Enlightened’ Indian men and women all from very different backgrounds! Again, the root essence of this can be found in the Dhammapada Sutta where the Buddha explains who and what a ‘monk’ and a ‘Brahmin’ actually are! In reality, there is no difference in the experience of ‘Enlightenment’ as taught in the Theravada, Mahayana and Tantra Schools, as the experience being explained is exactly the same. It is the experience of the underlying and empty mind ground, which is the accumulation of bodily discipline and ‘stilling’ of the mind so that the karmically conditioned taints of greed, hatred and delusion are permanently uprooted.
The differences lie in how each school teaches the path to the attainment of ‘Enlightenment’ and the accumulated dogma that has manifested due to historical conditions many hundreds of years after the passing of the Buddha. The Theravada offers a narrow gate, the Mahayana advocates a wide gate and the Tantrayana states that the ‘gate’ is ‘everywhere’ and ‘wherever’ a practitioner happens to be. This is because the empty mind ground underlies all phenomena and is not limited to a forest. Whereas the Mahayana emphasises the ‘path’ over the ‘destination’ - the Tantrayana offers the ‘destination’ over the ‘path’! However, things are not always this clear in demarcation, as some Theravada teachers offer a distinctly ‘Mahayana’ approach to their conservativism, whilst a number of Mahayana teachers are so strict that they come across as typical of the Theravada School. On occasion, there are Chinese Ch’an Masters who begin with ‘Enlightenment’ (just like the Tantrayana Masters), and will not compromise, negotiate or explain what they are doing. In reality we should study all three schools and make use of their experience and expertise in the matter of freeing humanity from its ongoing and accumulated suffering! A genuine experience of the empty mind ground unleashes an uncommon wisdom which sheds light on all this and demonstrates the genuine way ahead!
The Huayan (Flower Garland) Sutra (Sanskrit: ‘Avatamsaka’ Sutra) is a very long Mahayana text comprising of thirty-nine in-depth chapters explaining a multidimensional and interlocking system of diverse domains, realms and realities that are all connected by an identical underlying reality (from which) and within which all these diverse modes of existence manifest. The first thirty-eight chapters explain the structure, texture and function of this lucid reality, with this (final) thirty-ninth chapter actually dealing with the explorations of the (pure) young man named ‘Sudhana’. Although the Bodhisattva Manjushri instructs him to travel far and wide and receive instruction from fifty-three enlightened beings (comprised of male and female Buddhist monastics, male and female lay-people, Bodhisattvas including Manjushri himself, non-Buddhists (including Hindus), gods, goddesses and spirits, etc. Eventually, Sudhana realised that although reality is vast and enlightened-beings (representing the fifty-three stages of Bodhisattva development from ignorance to enlightenment) exist throughout the three-time periods of past, present and future – the reality is that with the correct training – this underlying (empty) reality can be ‘pierced’ and ‘realised’ here and now.
As the entirety of this multidimensional reality is interconnected by a structure that resembles ‘Indra’s Net’ - regardless of where (or ‘when’) an individual happens to be, this ‘wall of outer reality’ (reflected inwardly as a continuous stream of deluded thought) can be ‘penetrated’ through the development of meditative insight. Indeed, the final thirty-ninth chapter of the Huayan Chapter is what might be termed the ‘traditional’ Sutra-section of this text – with the other (preceding) thirty-eight chapters being an intricate and sophisticated extrapolation of this vision. Although moving around within time and space can be useful and sometimes even required for individual development – from a Ch’an perspective it is better to sit ‘like an iron mountain’ and cultivate the appropriate insight into the fabric of reality that exists everywhere and at all times. This is why the Huayan Sutra explains that reality Is comprised of four attributes which are a) noumena, b) phenomena, c) integration of noumena and phenomena and c) the unhindered functionality of all phenomena.
The ‘noumena’ is the underlying, empty mind ground, whilst the ‘phenomena’ comprises ALL of material existence. These are not two separate (parallel) states acting in concordance, but are rather two-sides of the same coin of reality. Within the deluded state, individuals cannot see beyond the phenomenal expression of reality. All they see is the (outer) material world of external objects which is reflected (inwardly) as a stream of continuous deluded thought. If a suitable meditational technique is applied to the individual mind – then the mind and body becomes ‘non-attached’ to the world of (external) material objects – a process which removes the impetus that powers the (internal) stream of deluded thoughts. Outer non-attachment is reflected within as the attainment of a ‘still’ and ‘pure’ mind. When the surface of the mind is ‘still’ there is no longer a stream of ‘obscuring’ thought which hinders insight and understanding. Like a crystal-clear lake – the individual can ‘see’ right to the bottom of the watery depths. With further training, the practitioner can fully enter into (and understand) the ‘empty’ world of the ‘noumena’ within which all things arise and pass away.
The Caodong School of Ch’an developed its Five Ranks of Prince and Minister symbology from an integration of Confucian and Daoist roundel technology, together with the use of ‘trigrams’ and ‘hexagrams’ as contained within the ‘Classic of Change’ (易經 - Yi Jing), as well as the conceptual understanding of ‘yin’ and ‘yang’ (陰陽). These five-roundel schematic can also be represented by a ‘thunderbolt’ motif (commonly found within the Chinese and Tibetan traditions of ‘Tantra’). The five roundels represent the human mind as its understanding progresses from the state of ‘ignorance’ to that of ‘enlightenment’. This developmental understanding is conveyed through the ‘shading’ and ‘non-shading’ of the roundels (or the ‘lack of light’ and the ‘presence of light’). The Caodong Masters used hexagram 30 - ‘䷝’ (離 - Li) - of the ‘Classic of Change’ to represent the fully enlightened mind (and body). Within ‘Yijing’ symbology this represents ‘double fire’ or ‘yang over yang’ (as two solid yang lines firmly hold the lone and broken central ‘yin’ line in check). As this is ‘fire over fire’ - then enlightenment is shown as being ‘complete’ and expressed as existing in all directions without hindrance or limit! As the enlightened mind exists in the ever present ‘here and now’, the Caodong Masters designed their developmental schematic starting from the ever-present but as of yet unrealised ‘enlightened’ position and working backwards – generating shaded roundels that represent the various levels of deluded obscuration associated with the ‘deluded’ states.
The five roundels of the Caodong School possess the internal logic of the ‘Yijing’ - whilst further representing the methodology of the Huayan Sutra. The ‘noumena’ is identical with ‘yang’ whilst ‘phenomena’ is equated with ‘yin’ - as the two systems interlock perfectly and appear to reinforce the general thinking that underlies the structure of the Huayan Sutra. Furthermore, the ‘noumena’ is also equated with the ‘Host’ (or ‘real’) position of Ch’an – whilst the ‘phenomena’ is identified with the ‘Guest’ (or ‘seeming’ position), etc. The yin-yang concept represents a permanent interaction of ‘shade’ and ‘non-shade’ - just as the Huayan Sutra advocates the permanent interaction of the ‘noumena’ and the ‘phenomena’. There is a perfect ‘integrating’ of the ideology of the ‘Indian’ (Sanskrit) Huayan Sutra – and the Chinese yin-yang system as used by the ‘Chinese’ Ch’an School. I am of the opinion that the Huayan Sutra motivated the Caodong Masters to ‘pull’ together Ch’an methodology with the yin-yang concept and ‘Yijing’ symbology – as well as Confucian and Daoist roundel technology. The five roundels represent the gradual ‘clearing’ of a practitioner’s insight as their Ch’an training progresses clearing the delusion from the mind. Initially, the ‘host’(noumena) is ‘hidden’ within the ‘guest’ (phenomena) and cannot be readily perceived even though there is a ‘sense’ that it is out there somewhere (this is the first position)! As training progresses it is understood that the ‘guest’ is ensconced within the ‘host’ (this is the second position). With further (sustained) training there is the sudden ‘resurgence’ of the ‘host’ or ‘real’ (‘noumena’) position where the mind is permanently ‘stilled’ (represented by the third position). This is often termed the (relative) ‘enlightenment’ of the Hinayana.
With further training, the mind’s perception ‘expands’ so that the ‘noumena’ (void) and ‘phenomena’ (form) stand in a balanced opposition to one another. This demonstrates the subtle delusion of duality which still persists and this is why the Caodong Masters explain this fourth position as ‘not one’. When this last subtle barrier is dissolved – then the fifth position of ‘full enlightenment’ is achieved which the Caodong Masters describe as ‘not two’. Within Huayan Sutra thinking – this represents the perfect integration of the ‘noumena’ and the ‘phenomena’ - whereby all of the material objects in the world exist in their proper place and without hindrance or limitation of expression and functionality. From the Ch’an position, the advice is usually to be ‘neither attached to the void nor hindered by phenomena’. Once the Ch’an practitioner fully understands the ‘noumena’ and the phenomena’ - then all that remains is for the individual concerned to simply ‘adjust himself to circumstance’ whilst acting in the best interests of all living beings. This means that the ‘frequency’ of the phenomenal world one happens to exist within is fully understood and the path of least resistance is taken – unless, of course, injustice is such that a Ch’an Master is called upon to act in the best interests of humanity. Noumena and phenomena represent a totality of reality – an ebb and flow in innate and functional energy within which the mind and body manifests. If we sit and meditate ‘like an iron mountain’ here and now – then human insight will fully perceive this reality and dissolve all the delusional barriers that usually prevent this direct perception. Just as a single hexagram of the ‘yijing’ contains the essence of the other sixty-three hexagrams – one of the five Caodong roundels contains the essence of the other four. This recognition of multidimensional functionality is exactly how the Huayan Sutra has influenced the Chinese Ch’an School.
Although certain modern trends within Asian Buddhism appears to suggest that a Buddhist monastic follows a path that is ‘superior’ to that of the dedicated ‘lay’ Buddhist practitioner – a close and careful reading of the Pali Suttas (and their Sanskrit counter-parts) reveals a very different picture. Yes – obviously a Buddhist monastic leads an infinitely more ‘virtuous’ life than a lay-person who does not follow the Dharma and lives just for sensory stimulation and superficial emotional gratification. This the argument that the ‘morality’ of the monastic is more worthwhile than the ‘hedonism’ of the lay-person. Of course, people are free to reject this analysis and conclusion. The two alternative views are that the ‘hedonist’ is ‘equal’ or at least ‘superior’ to the ‘Monastic’ - but these different interpretations tenable? There is something ‘instinctive’ about the ‘hedonist’ - as if they have not yet evolved the ‘wisdom’ to a) ‘manage’, and b) ‘elevate’ the data received from their sensory-organs to a higher plane of existence!
A ‘hedonist’ is someone who lives in the world of greed, hatred and delusion and see no problem with this natural arrangement. As this is the situation that the Buddha states generates all of humanity’s suffering – he rejects it out of hand. This is the world of the cess-pit of dirty sensationalism that the Buddhist monastic leaves behind and it is in this sense that the lifestyle of the Buddhist monastic is said to be morally and virtuously ‘superior’ to that of the uncontrolled, undisciplined, lazy and selfish ‘hedonist’. Although the human-beings within both categories make use of ‘sensory’ stimulus, the ‘hedonist’ is entrapped by what he or she ‘feels’ and cannot ‘breakout’ of the cycle of pointless repetition – whereas the ‘monastic’ takes exactly the same ‘sensory’ stimulus and uses this data to ‘uproot’ greed, hatred and delusion, and ‘break’ free of the cycle of pointless ‘sensory’ stimulation! This is why it is untenable to suggest that within this context, the ‘hedonist’ (as a lay-person) is the ‘equal’ or ‘superior’ to the Buddhist monastic! From this point of view, it is obvious that the ‘hedonist’ lives an ‘inferior’ lifestyle to that of the Buddhist monastic.
Things are not so clear-cut when devout individuals follow the Dharma with determination and yet still live within the world of everyday concerns. This type of lay-person is very different to the ‘hedonist’ as they apply to their lives the very same Dharma that the Buddhist monastics make use of, with many such lay-people even choosing to voluntarily abide by the Vinaya Discipline to the best of their ability within the circumstances they live within. When Buddhist monastics give Dharma-Talks in China to audiences of robe-clad lay-people, he or she usually takes a humble position as within their ‘cloistered’ life, it far easier to apply the Dharma and to discipline their minds and bodies with the minimum of distractions or cares. For the devout lay-person, however, their life is full of distractions and cares that have nothing to do with the Dharma and often get in the way of its practice! Despite this, these dedicated lay-people persevere with the disciplining of their minds and bodies and apply the Ch’an method within all circumstance, good, bad and indifferent.
Despite these hindrances inherent within everyday life, both male and female lay-practitioners of the Dharma realise full and complete enlightenment! This is even mentioned in the Pali and Sanskrit Buddhist texts, and was a well-known occurrence during the Buddha’s lifetime. Although the worldly use of the senses creates obscuring barriers between the surface mind and the empty mind ground – the lay-person applies the gong-an, hua tou or chanting practice too such a high degree of commitment that the surface mind of obstruction (klesa) is smashed to pieces forever! This suggests that the sheer practice of the committed lay-person became so full of inner potential that it drilled-through the klesic obscuration and achieved full and total comprehension of the empty mind ground! In the Pali Suttas the Buddha clearly states that when the enlightened mind is realised – there is no difference between a lay-person and a monastic.
Although both may occupy very different stations in life that demand certain rules of interaction and polite communication, the essences of each individual’s understanding remain exactly the same! Both the ‘monastic’ and the ‘lay’ person are looking at and integrating with exactly the same empty mind ground so that the only differences in their lives is the social status each occupies. Vimalakirti was a very wealthy Indian who possessed a number of wives and countless children, and yet he ‘saw through’ the obscuring veil if the world and perceived the empty mind ground. Hui Neng – the Sixth Patriotic of Ch’an - was a lay-person when he inherited the Dharma (only ordaining at a later date). The Chinese Ch’an Records record a number of examples of how ordinary men, women and even children achieved full and total enlightenment! As Buddhist monasticism is premised upon humility – many such practitioners believe that the ‘lay’ path to enlightenment is by far the much harder path to take (as everything about it serves to turn away from, and obscure the empty mind ground). This is why many Chinese Buddhist monastics today, habitually place themselves ‘below’ the status of the laity. It may be that such humility contains the inherent power to encourage the ‘hedonist’ to change their lives for the better and follow the Dharma, whilst supporting, empower and ‘lifting-up’ those lay people who are already making good progress in their self-cultivation!
The Sanskrit term ‘विनय’ (vinaya) carries the primary meanings of ‘courtesy’, ‘civility’ and ‘etiquette’, with the secondary meanings (depending upon context), of ‘humility’, ‘sincerity’ and the performing of an ‘act of courtesy’. Within the Chinese language, the Sanskrit term ‘vinaya’ is written using the Chinese ideogram of ‘律’ (lu4). This is comprised of a left-hand (semantic) particle ‘彳’ (chi4) - meaning ‘to walk slowly and carefully - along a path or a road’, and a right-hand (phonetic) particle of ‘聿’ (yu4) - which means to ‘use brush and paper’. When placed together as ‘律’ (lu4), the primary meanings are created of ‘regulation’ and ‘rules of the road’, and the secondary meanings of ‘statute’, ‘principle’ and ‘regulation’. As the ancient Chinese scholars were very careful to a) ‘record’ and b) ‘transmit’ the correct meanings of the then unfamiliar terms associated with Indian Buddhism into the Chinese language, and given that this translation (and understanding) is accepted by Indian scholars as ‘correct’, the Chinese definition of ‘vinaya’ may be taken as a clear indicator of the ‘original’ or ‘intended’ meaning as intended by the Buddha and his disciples. The ‘Vinaya Discipline’ is a set of rules and regulations within Buddhism, which advise upon the correct moral behaviour for the monastic (who must follow ALL the rules without exception), and the lay-practitioner (who must follow a small number of the rules whilst living within ordinary society). Whereas a monastic is ‘celibate’, the lay-person must practice ‘sexual restraint’ (and not ‘celibacy’), so that their behaviour does not cause ‘concern’ or ‘outrage’ within the lay-community. The point of the Vinaya Discipline is to effect ‘behaviour modification’ within the mind and body of the Buddhist practitioner, so that greed, hatred and delusion are permanently ‘uprooted’ from the thought patterns, and NEVER manifest again through ‘behaviour’. In this regard, the Vinaya Discipline is a ‘support’ to both monastic and lay Buddhist practice. Moreover, whereas a Buddhist monk or nun must spend months (and sometimes years) ‘preparing’ to take the Vinaya Vows (227 for men and 311 for women), a lay-Buddhist practitioner may decide to follow the entirety of the Vinaya Discipline on a voluntary basis within the context of his or her worldly life. Nothing is required for this but a firm ‘resolve’ to carry-out such an undertaking. Quite often, this leads to the situation of male and female ‘ascetics’ living in the wilderness throughout Asia, who are revered by the ordinary people for their ‘holiness’, despite never formally training as a Buddhist monastic or having entered a Buddhist monastic training facility! In many ways this reflects the Buddha’s own experiences, as no one ‘ordained’ him, and all his training was a product of self-discipline as an ascetic sat at the foot of a tree! The Vinaya Discipline acts as a ‘support’ for following the ‘Dharma’. The Dharma is the Buddha’s most important central teaching, whereas the Vinaya Discipline are a set of instructionary rules established over-time and designed to enable the following of the Dharma more efficiently. As the Vinaya Discipline is a set of rules that assist in the regulation of the mind and body, Master Xu Yun (1840-1959) was of the firm opinion that there can be no genuine Buddhism without the Vinaya Discipline being a) ‘present’, and b) ‘practiced’. This is why he rejected the Japanese convention of NOT following the Vinaya Discipline. Although anyone can choose to live in isolation as a Buddhist ‘hermit’ or ‘ascetic’, only a man or woman who has been through the official head-shaving ceremony (under a recognised Buddhist master), and who has taken the Vinaya Discipline and the Bodhisattva Vows, is considered a fully ordained ‘monk’ or ‘nun’ within the Chinese Buddhist tradition. This distinction was further enforced by Master Xu Yun in the early 1950s (at the time that he ‘rejected’ the Japanese tradition of NOT upholding the Vinaya Discipline), when he advised the government of China to make it a ‘legal’ requirement for ALL fully ordained Buddhist monks and nuns to follow the Vinaya Discipline properly – or face legal action (similar to ‘breaking a contract’). Master Xu Yun took this action due to the reality of a number of Buddhist monastic communities causing trouble within lay-society through ill-discipline, interference, greed and other forms of corrupt behaviour. A lay-person, however, remains free to ‘access’ or ‘leave’ the Vinaya Discipline at any time, with no criminality attached. A lay-person may follow ALL or only a part of the Vinaya Discipline, as he or she sees fit, or as the circumstances of their life allows. The Vinaya Discipline is a powerful device that if used correctly, can cure any number of psychological, emotional and physical ailments, as well as removing deficiencies, weaknesses and all kinds of barriers or hindrances to pursuing the Dharma! A lay-person may live like a monk (or a nun) without actually entering the establishment of a Buddhist monastery, or undergoing formal ordination. Indeed, within the Chinese Ch’an School, a lay-person is expected to achieve full enlightenment exactly where they are, with the status of a Buddhist monk or nun being lower than that of the poorest lay-person! The Vinaya Discipline belongs to humanity, but over-time certain conventions have become associated with it. When Charles Luk asked Master Xu Yun ‘What is the most important Precept to follow?’ Master Xu Yun replied ‘The ‘Mind’ Precept.’ In other words, simply following an external set of rules is useless if the empty mind-ground is not penetrated and realised here and now, and in all circumstances! The empty mind-ground is exactly the same for a Buddhist monastic as it is for a lay-person! Indeed, in many ways, the life of a lay-person possesses many advantages over that of a Buddhist monastic – the latter of which is merely a beggar in robes (who is not allowed even to ‘beg’ in China)!
Adrian Chan-Wyles (釋大道 - Shi Da Dao) is permitted to retain his Buddhist Monastic Dharma-Name within Lay-society by decree of the Government of the People’s Republic of China, and the Chinese Buddhist Association (1992). A Buddhist monastic (and devout lay-practitioner) upholds the highest levels of Vinaya Discipline and Bodhisattva Vows. A Genuine Buddhist ‘Venerates’ the ‘Dao’ (道) as he or she penetrates the ‘Empty Mind-Ground' through meditative insight. A genuine Buddhist is humble, wise and peace-loving – and he or she selflessly serves all in existence in the past, present and the future, and residing within the Ten Directions – whilst retaining a vegetarian- vegan diet. Please be kind to animals!
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